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Public Papers - 1991 - August

Remarks at the Presentation Ceremony for the All-American Cities Awards


Please be seated and thank you. You're probably clapping for this fantastic weather. [Laughter] Isn't it marvelous.

Let me just thank the Members of Congress who are with me today and thank them for their interest. A couple of them were former mayors, so they know something about what it's like to be on the firing line. But Dick Lugar and Mike McNulty, Ben Cardin, Bob McEwen are with us. And I want to particularly single out the representatives of our finest cities. I see my friend Henry Cisneros over here. He'll have something to do later on, part of the program. Wayne Hedien also, who's the Chairman and CEO of Allstate.

You know often people ask why we ought to be optimistic about our Nation's future. You hear a lot of complaints, and there are a lot of problems, but I think there is reason to be optimistic. Look at any of the 10 cities that are appropriately being honored here today, and listen to the stories of small cities like Gothenburg, Nebraska, population 3,000, and of big cities like Baltimore.

Hear these stories and you'll hear the heartbeat of this country, and you'll share our unshakable optimism in the future of this great land because there is no finer resource in this world as these cities prove, than the people -- American people. Mayor Michael Harmless of Greencastle, Indiana, put it best: ``Our people made the difference.'' And he means people who rejected pessimism and apathy in favor of optimism and engagement.

Today we salute the 1991 All-American Cities that join a roster of honor of over 400 other chosen since 1949. These communities recognize the truth that William Jennings Bryan expressed nearly 100 years ago: ``Destiny is not a matter of chance;'' he said, ``it's a matter of choice. It's not a thing to be waited for; it's a thing to be achieved.''

Well, these communities have lessons to teach us all. And they do not wait for government to take the initiative. They recognize that government can solve some but not all the problems. And they realize that communities can claim and shape their own destinies. These communities prove the power of partnership. Across this country citizens, government, business, and volunteer groups are cooperating to confront community issues together. These communities recognize the responsibilities of citizenship, as Teddy Roosevelt admonished Americans to be actors not merely critics. And the central theme of all these stories is the unlimited power and promise of voluntary service to others. These communities show us the strength of the American character -- people helping one another without expecting any financial compensation for themselves. And today we call them Points of Light. But they've been the heart of our Nation for over 200 years.

And some of their projects focused on youth, like Gadsden, Alabama's motivational Quest for Excellence, or Baltimore's mentoring program, called Project Raise. To fight crime, Austin, Texas, inaugurated Youth at Risk, and Winchester-Frederick County in Virginia set up a teen center to foster a drug-free environment. In Albany -- Albany, New York -- community groups, businesses, and social services, these social service agencies, came up with the Albany Plan to battle drug abuse through prevention, education, enforcement, and of course, treatment.

Some communities launched an urban renaissance. In New Jersey, Newark residents devised plans to revitalize the downtown area and thus restore the neighborhoods. And Greensboro, North Carolina, citizens created a public-private partnership called Visions to reinvigorate their city. A few communities fought for their very survival. Greencastle, Indiana, lost 40 percent of its jobs -- imagine this, 40 percent of its jobs -- when a major national corporation moved out. So, residents got together and introduced a creative economic development initiative to attract new industries.

Gothenburg, Nebraska, fought for its future after the agricultural depression, revitalizing the Gothenburg Improvement Company. Inspired by the slogan ``vision is the art of seeing things invisible,'' volunteers have recruited new jobs for residents, making their vision a reality.

A three-time winner, Dayton, Ohio, took aim at three critical issues: protecting water, battling drugs, and providing affordable housing. Citizens, the private sector, and city government all joined forces showing how diverse segments of the city can combine their many gifts and resources to make a difference. As Mayor Rick Blase of Gothenburg says: ``Any problem you face is insurmountable if faced alone. But together Americans can do anything.''

A centuries-old inscription on a church in Sussex, England, summarizes what these communities here in this country have done: ``A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. But a vision with a task is the hope of the world.''

So, thanks to all of you, and all out here for giving us hope, for showing us the way. And may God bless this great land we share. And now we'll get on with these presentations. Thank you very, very much.

Note: The President spoke at 9:19 a.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Senator Richard G. Lugar; Representatives Michael R. McNulty, Benjamin L. Cardin, and Bob McEwen; Henry Cisneros, chairman of the board of the National Civic League; and Wayne E. Hedien, Chairman and CEO of Allstate.

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